NRC test balloon in Kodagu?

NRC test balloon in Kodagu?

The paranoia whipped up through a whisper campaign on ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ is proving to be counterproductive as Indian workers from West Bengal, Assam and other North-East states have to bear the brunt for no fault of theirs.

Kodagu Superintendent of Police (SP) Suman Pennekar has courted controversy by creating an online registry of migrant workers and directing them to prove their identity, at a time when there are protests across the country against the proposed nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC), from which the central government itself has backed off, at least for now. Over 6,000 panic-stricken migrants from Assam and other states working in the district’s coffee plantations, resorts and construction industry were called in and subjected to an ‘identity verification drive’ at local police stations. This comes in the wake of allegations by Hindutva groups that ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ had come into the district. One local Bajrang Dal leader has gone on record as having raised the bogey of illegal immigrants after a group of Assamese workers refused to work in his coffee estate at the low wage he was offering. Most migrants were found to be in possession of valid documents. In any case, the SP does not have powers to extern from the district those who could not produce identification papers, unless it is proved that they are illegal immigrants.

Though the SP’s decision may be well-intentioned, given her clean track record, in this case she clearly exceeded her brief. Such an exercise was wholly unwarranted as for several years now, employers in Kodagu have been furnishing details of migrant labour to the jurisdictional police station on a regular basis. While identifying and deporting illegal immigrants should be a continuous process, profiling workers based on their origin is an affront to their fundamental rights, which guarantee them the right to equality and the freedom to practice any profession, move freely throughout India and to reside in any part of the country. Citizens cannot be subjected to humiliation just because they belong to the labour class. One can easily imagine the outrage if white collar employees from other parts of the country working in Bengaluru were similarly directed to prove their nationality or identity at police stations.

The paranoia whipped up through a whisper campaign on ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ is proving to be counterproductive as Indian workers from West Bengal, Assam and other North-East states have to bear the brunt for no fault of theirs. It is unfortunate that citizens from the North-East are regularly called upon to prove their Indianness so that hate-mongers can achieve their objective of creating a fear psychosis among minorities. The government should immediately reveal if the Kodagu SP was acting on her own, perhaps under pressure from Hindutva groups, or if the exercise -- and the district -- was floated as a test balloon for the proposed NRC.